Interview: Ascendant

Ascendant (opens new window) is a Danish blackened death metal band. In 2012 they released their debut album The Alteration, and two years later, a follow-up EP Serenity. They have been inactive for the past few years, and I thought it would be interesting to catch up with their vocalist Josua. We talked about the band's history, The Alteration, the Danish Christian metal scene, and the possibility of a future release.

Would you introduce yourself and tell us your role in the band?

Hi everyone. I am Josua Poulsen and I am the lead singer of the Danish band Ascendant. We are an experimental blackened death metal band that takes inspiration from bands like Gojira, Meshuggah, A Hill to Die Upon, Naglfar, and many more. Metal music has always been an art form for me and a way to express my feelings, not only the sad ones but the entire specter. Traditionally, most lead singers write the lyrics but because I am - as many of you might be also - the biggest critic of my work, only a few of my lyrics get approved by myself. So the most of our lyrics are written by our bass player Jens Grønhøj.

Ascendant has been silent for the past few years. What have you guys been up to since then?

Ascendant have always and will always be a passion project for us. We never dreamed of going big, but cherished the moments where we could share our story with our audience. So since the beginning, we have been a not very active band with few rehearsals. The last couple of years my fellow bandmates got married, and we have added a handful of new Ascendant descendants to the group.

What is the history behind the band?

We started at a boarding school (which is a very common thing in Denmark at 15-16). Where we shared our fellow passion for extreme music. We thought it would be cool to create something together and decided that we would start a band. We started playing a weird combination of hardcore/metalcore but after changing members and getting Jens into the band, we changed genres drastically. Jens mostly listened to Opeth and Meshuggah (a band we all enjoyed). Me and the drummer Levi had fallen in love with black and blackened death, so a change in the music was natural at that point.

As you might hear on our album The Alteration, we did quite a few experiments mixing genres. It was not something we were vocal about, we just played and wrote what came into our heads. After that album, we found the spectrum of genres of what we wanted to play and sound like in Ascendant.

We have a history with other bands in Denmark with Christian members but compared to the other bands our genre was more an acquired taste and more extreme. So we did not feel recognized in the Danish music scene for a lot of years. We were almost ready to quit the band for good but had one last gig in Switzerland at Element of Rock which we looked forward to. A day before the concert and 8 hours before the 14-hour long trip our rhythm guitarist got sick with a high fever and had to cancel. We were in a shocking state of mind and didn't know what to do but went anyway. Lay it all in God's hands and trust that he wanted us there. The concert went amazing, not our best performance but the most spiritual and most energetic. The entire concert can be seen on Youtube on our channel AscendantDK (opens new window). We made a lot of mistakes and especially my English was at an all-time low but the thing is, none of that mattered. I had a spiritual connection through our music for the first time in a very long time and many of the audience members had the same feeling; a shared story and a moment of grace. And for the first time, we sold out on all our merch. That was when we realized Ascendant is not about being recognized for our talent but meeting people exactly where they are and sharing our story with them. After that, we accepted all kinds of jobs like playing in prisons and so on.

What is the significance of the name “Ascendant”?

Actually, there was not any meaning behind the name Ascendant in the beginning. We just wanted a name that we thought sounded cool. The meaning was something we brought to it afterward. For us it's now a look on the shoulders we stand on; musically, spiritually, and so on. David from the Old Testament is a good example and the grand old father of Christian metal in Denmark - who taught us modesty and a lot of other great virtues are other examples.

Your sound is described as blackened death metal. Who are your musical influences?

We have a lot and it differs from the individual band member. But mostly it Meshuggah, Gojira, Opeth, Naglfar, A Hill To Die Upon, Behemoth, and the great Crimson Moonlight..

On The Alteration, each track had a unique artwork with exception of the title track, correct? What was the inspiration behind that and what was the concept of the record?

To be brutally honest; we were young and we thought it would be great with a very good-looking booklet. But we did not have an overall theme or concept. The concept took shape when we were in the studio. We realized that The Alteration is our story of faith, doubt, and existential crisis. The album starts with the gloomy song, The Alteration. The song is about the mark you get when you are baptized and the promise that God will never leave you. The song is about the feeling that God has left you. The album progresses in theme as we did in those years from feeling away from God to feeling his presence. The artwork was something we wanted but we did not know who should make it and we were on a time limit so we found a couple of different amateur artist who was interested in helping us, we gave them the individual song and talked with them about the theme and they were given complete artistic freedom.

How is the Christian metal scene in Denmark? There have been bands like yourself, Unseen Faith(active), and Roselyn. Have any new ones sprung up recently?

Few young ones listen to metal in Denmark anymore, so we don't get many new followers of the scene. It’s not something we find critically, as long as the young people find other ways to express themselves. Unseen Faith is doing really well; they are an amazingly talented band and very dear friends of ours the same goes for Roselyn who has been a little quiet the last couple of years but just recorded a kick-ass music video. Both are really something everyone should check out. As for new bands with Christian members, there has been no one new.

What are some of your favorite bands in the Christian metal scene?

I actually have a hard time listening to Christian metal. I often found it uninspiring. But I have a handful I am very happy to listen to. Bands like A Hill to Die Upon, Slechtvalk, Crimson Moonlight, Antestor, Benea Reach, old Zao, and so on. My point of view is that you get affected by everything you listen to but as long as you are aware of that you can neutralize that effect. So I don’t in particular fashion look for Christian bands. My source of the Gospel comes elsewhere. And though it might seem weird and maybe even stupid, I put my meaning into songs. That means that I sometimes use deeply melancholic songs as songs of worship or joy, even though they were not meant that way. For me, it is like looking at a painting. People can see it in a thousand different ways. I enjoy a good painting and put my meaning into it, even though I know its creator might have had something else in mind. For me, that is what art can do, and that is the same way I am feeling about music. My number one most listened artist for the last 10 years is Nick Cave, which most Christians won't find particularly graceful.

As a follow-up, what are some recent albums you have particularly enjoyed?

For me, it's almost an anxious experience listening to new music, so I mostly stick to what I know. But some of the new albums I enjoy is Unseen Faith and A Hill to Die Upon’s

Bands in Scandinavian countries have sometimes faced persecution for proclaiming the name of Christ. How have you guys been received over the years in Denmark, any wild stories?

That is true, and it's a part of the history, but it was something mostly Norwegian black metal bands experience and it was in a generation before ours. We have experienced a little mockery from Christians and secular but for me, that is not something I don't expect nor take personally. I always tell them that I understand they don't know how we can mix both of them and then proceed to explain my feelings towards them both. I have never met a person who continued being rude, after explaining that to them and shoving my understanding instead of being aggressive back at them. The only time we thought about it was when we were offered a 14-day tour in Brazil. The year before the Norwegian band Antestor had a similar tour where they received death threats and had to have a police escort.

But in Denmark, the metal people are all very kind. The biggest secular metal festival in Denmark, Copenhell has yet to have a police report due to fist fighting.

How to did you come to saving faith in Christ?

I was born into a Christian family so faith was always there but faith for me is something I have alongside my doubts. I carry both of them and I know I can never let go of any of them. So my faith sometimes comes day-by-day or month-by-month but it's always there.

What does the future look like for you guys? Is there a possibility that we might get a third album in the future?

The music writing in Ascendant has always been about expressing ourselves and our gift to ourselves, and the concerts have been a place where we hoped to reach out and connect with people. Right now we have an entire album ready, but we don't have the time. But I know that we in the future will take that time and gift ourselves that enjoyment of creativity. Concerts are more difficult but if we feel God's call for us on the scene I don't find it impossible.

What do you hope listeners take away from your music?

Creative music, brutally honest hearts, a connection with us, and the feeling that you are never alone. The best review I can get is when people say they can feel our intentions and our emotions through the music. But that happens mostly live.

What is the best place to get your music?

Spotify, iTunes, Youtube, and Bandcamp. We only get very little money from those sites, so if you want the MP3’s just PM me on Facebook or something and I will share it for free. We would also be happy to get a little money for expenses out of it but it is not a must for us. So if you struggle to find the money or if you are willing to donate a lesser amount to some charity, we will be happy to give it for free.

As to hard copies we still have some The Alteration CDs left and if you can't find a copy on Nordic Mission or Bandcamp then just message me. Unfortunately, we have no more copies of the EP Serenity but if you are a collector, I might be able to find you a used one - again send a PM.

Thanks for taking the time to do this. Any final thoughts you would like to share?

If this interview or one of our songs or something we said leaves you with one or more questions, you are welcome to message me. It sometimes takes me a while to respond but I always respond and there is not a question I won’t answer.

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